Nostalgia can be good. But it can also be bad. Like cheap hot cocoa mix with the tiny dehydrated marshmallows: I want it for the nostalgia, but invariably the marshmallows either have the crunch of chalk or dissolve into air like the illusions they are.
My husband and I had this conversation tonight and it made him briefly wish for the marshmallow gun he gave my dad for Christmas the first year we were dating. At least, that wish had better be brief because I was Dad’s favorite target. I don’t remember anymore what happened to that gun, but I think one of my now-adult nieces or nephew claimed it.
That was a memorable Christmas. Mostly because Dad had an unfortunate-for-the-rest-of-us predilection for trick wrapping. He designed these things as absurd, inane tests. Mostly because Dad just liked to be a jackass.
That Christmas, Dad set a test for my then-boyfriend/now-husband. He took a box and wrapped it with an almost OCD precision, tape encasing every millimeter of seam.
Dad at least made it look nice. (Spoiler: it wasn’t nice.)
But within that box were other boxes wrapped in layers of duct tape over newspaper over packing tape and more duct tape and newspaper. Sometimes a box would reveal multiple boxes, each requiring a surgeon or super thief to break open, never knowing which would be the decoy. Sometimes he screwed blocks of wood together just to make you question your life choices. And you had to search through every scrap and flap with a fine toothed comb or else risk listening to his boasting forevermore.
Dad’s favorite gift to wrap this way? Gift cards. He never let my grandmother forget the time he taped a card to the underside of a flap on a box. The first box she opened in his labyrinthine wrapping. She, of course, didn’t see it and proceeded to work her way through each and every layer, cursing him soundly while he giggled like a kid.
So I warned my husband. We all knew his test was coming; Dad had pulled it on two other boyfriends. When Dad found out I’d warned him, he was pissed. So to retaliate, he pulled out all the stops. He outdid himself so thoroughly on this particular gifting torture that all future iterations were halfhearted attempts, at best.
Dad’s pièce de résistance was the heart of the gift: two blocks of wood, hiding a gift card. Screwed together with Robertson screws. Which aren’t much used here in the US.
But Dad underestimated a theatre tech going to university in Canada. Where Robertson screws aren’t so rare. My then-boyfriend/now-husband had the whole thing open in under ten minutes (or was it five? And yes, Dad had a literal stopwatch running) without borrowing a single tool.
If we’d announced then and there that we were getting married–after a single semester of long distance dating–I think Dad would have given his blessing. Dad never stopped bragging about it.
Weirdly, this all relates to an epiphany I had with my writing today. Not so much the test part or even illusory marshmallows, but the nostalgia trip.
I’ve been stalled on my current novel project and it’s taken me months to figure out why: I need to go back to drafting longhand. I stopped after my daughter was born because I just couldn’t concentrate or maintain the more sustained sort of focus I need to write longhand. Typing worked better with the way my mind jumped from one thing to another.
Back in December, I lost my connection to the story. Now I can see that typing outstripped my speed of composing–pulling the story together and shaping it in a coherent, functional way. Which is why I settled on drafting longhand in the first place, years ago.
So sometimes it’s good to revisit things from the past and reintroduce them to the present. Though if anyone wants to give me a present and mimic Dad’s puzzle wrapping torture, be prepared for a whole lot of laughter, tools, and waxing nostalgic on Dad-stories. Fair warning.
In the meantime, I have a novel to work on.